Monthly Archive for November, 2008

Six Days Remix

DJ Shadow+Mos Def+Wong Kar Wai+Christopher Doyle=PoMo Goodness

The Rise of the Mutts

This article in the Times UK reminded me of the big step forward that Barack Obama being elected president of the United States symbolizes. As anyone who heard his speech last Tuesday night knows, he promised to get his daughters a puppy to take with them to the White House. He said, when asked about what breed they would take, that they would consider a shelter-dog, and that “a lot of shelter-dogs are mutts like me”.

It’s amazing to me that miscegenation laws — legislation that prohibits interracial marriages — existed in 16 states in the United States well into the latter half of the 20th century. We still have a tendency to identify any mixed race child — when one parent is white — with the minority, almost as if the minority blood tainted the white blood. Of course, only the most hardcore inbred racists would openly espouse such views, but I think even amid the jubilation of Obama being elected “the first African American president”, a lot of people overlooked the fact that he was mixed race, with a Kenyan father and a white mother from Kansas. Obama has stated over and over the importance of his mixed race heritage in shaping his world view.

The fact that a guy with a decidedly un-Anglo name like Barack Hussein Obama was elected president of the United States is fantastic. It means so much to me personally, as a person of mixed race, with an un-Anglo-sounding name. I’m a mutt too, with Swiss-German-Italian-Vietnamese blood, and I grew up in America. But, unlike Obama, whose mix with the dominant African gene makes him appear “more black” to most people, I have a weird mix that actually makes me look Latino. I grew up with people thinking I was Mexican, Brazilian, Columbian, Arabic, you name it — but mostly they thought I was Mexican. Growing up in California you are surrounded by Mexican culture, so this was inevitable for someone who looked like me. I never got offended, but it always reinforced my gut feeling that I was different, that I didn’t have a place anywhere. But there are certain advantages to this Zelig-like existence.

I used to valet park cars, for example, and the vatos driving their lowriders would only park with me because I was folk —they obviously thought I was Mexican and could handle their cars. It was pretty damn cool to drive those lowriders around! Being a weird mix also allows me to blend-in in a lot of places. One time in Budapest, of all places, I was stopped on the street and asked for directions in Hungarian; and here in Spain, people take it for granted that I am from here. I’ve had conversations with people who, upon finding out that I am not from here, were convinced that I was from somewhere in South America. When I told them no, I’m American, they looked at me as if I was some kind of Uncle Tom denying his true roots. I just let them think that, because I am really tired of explaining my life story to people. I have even worked with Americans who had a hard time believing that I really was American, and not Spanish.

The most dubious honor of all, though, is when I fill out census forms. When asked for your race, the options are usually Caucasian, African-American, Asian, Native American, Hispanic, and, best of all, Other. Since I can’t pick two, which would do justice to both of my parents, and because I can’t completely identify with either of the broad rubrics of Caucasian and Asian, I always pick Other. My entire life can, in a way, be defined by my choice of picking Other. I could never identify with anything else.

Obama is a mutt, and so am I. This is really about the rise of the mutts. We shelter-dogs haven’t been adequately represented in this crazy world that fetishizes purebreds. Purebreds aren’t better, and sometimes they can get snappy. Just look at Barney, Bush’s Scottish Terrier, who cruelly snapped at a reporter and drew blood the day after Obama’s election.

It made me wonder. Could Barney’s shockingly un-presidential behavior really be symbolic of the end of purebred fetishizers? Could it be their last lashing out?

Benjamin on Cinema

The ill-fated German cultural critic and brilliant writer Walter Benjamin, on cinema:

By close-ups of the things around us, by focusing on hidden details of familiar objects, by exploring common place milieus under the ingenious guidance of the camera, the film, on the one hand, extends our comprehension of the necessities which rule our lives; on the other hand, it manages to assure us of an immense and unexpected field of action. Our taverns and our metropolitan streets, our offices and furnished rooms, our railroad stations and our factories appeared to have us locked up hopelessly. Then came the film and burst this prison-world asunder by the dynamite of the tenth of a second, so that now, in the midst of its far-flung ruins and debris, we calmly and adventurously go traveling. With the close-up, space expands; with slow motion, movement is extended. The enlargement of a snapshot does not simply render more precise what in any case was visible, though unclear: it reveals entirely new structural formations of the subject. So, too, slow motion not only presents familiar qualities of movement but reveals in them entirely unknown ones “which, far from looking like retarded rapid movements, give the effect of singularly gliding, floating, supernatural motions.” Evidently a different nature opens itself to the camera than opens to the naked eye – if only because an unconsciously penetrated space is substituted for a space consciously explored by man. Even if one has a general knowledge of the way people walk, one knows nothing of a person’s posture during the fractional second of a stride. The act of reaching for a lighter or a spoon is familiar routine, yet we hardly know what really goes on between hand and metal, not to mention how this fluctuates with our moods. Here the camera intervenes with the resources of its lowerings and liftings, its interruptions and isolations, it extensions and accelerations, its enlargements and reductions. The camera introduces us to unconscious optics as does psychoanalysis to unconscious impulses

From his 1936 essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.

Friday Night Feature – Colombian Devil’s Breath

Imagine a drug that turns people under its influence into zombies that will follow any order given to them, that leaves its victims with absolutely no memory of what they have done after its effects wear off. Devil’s Breath, extracted from the Colombian Borrachera tree, is also known as Scopolamine in its refined pharmaceutical form. In very low doses it is used as an anti-motion sickness drug in transdermal patches, but in higher doses it has unbelievable effects: victims have been known to extract their entire life savings, to give away all the possessions in their apartment, and, worst of all, kill – just because they were asked. This is the ultimate Evil Mastermind drug, allegedly once used in interrogation experiments by Joseph Mengele and the CIA.

This 9 part “drugumentary” by VBS.TV examines the different ways it is used by the criminal underworld in Bogota, Colombia, “Kidnapping Capital of the World”. You can watch all the parts together, without commercials, on the Larry Kovaks Street Scam Forum, or separately on VBS.TV.

Proposition R

This is awesome. San Francisco’s Proposition R, for renaming the Oceanside Water Pollution Control Plant to the George W Bush Sewage Plant.

President Bush has left us with a gigantic mess, and that this facility symbolizes the city’s deft ability to clean up its share of the financial and diplomatic mess left in this administration’s wake. It will also become the world’s first presidential sewage plant, a potential tourist attraction, and therefore an opportunity for the dedicated plant workers to educate visitors about this essential and heretofore unknown public works …

Fellow San Franciscans, we urge you to vote Oui! On November 4th.

I hope it gets passed (no pun intended).

Barack Obama, America’s 44th president

I had to pinch myself and go out on the terrace for some bracing cold air, I couldn’t believe it. My mom called me at 5:25 in the morning with the news, the very moment McCain was giving his concession speech. Right now I’m watching President-elect Obama give his victory speech in Chicago. After eight years, the Iraq invasion, a destroyed economy, Guantanamo, Abu Graieb, the Patriot Act, the neocons, Rove, Cheney and BUSH, my kneejerk reaction is to write something cynical or ironic, but no, this is just a great thing. Finally, we’re back!